MIDDLEBURY, Vt.- The Middlebury College student organization called UMOJA-a name derived from the Kiswahili word "umoja," meaning community togetherness-will present a series of events titled "The UMOJA African Experience, Flipping the Coin: The Africa We Do Not Know" on Saturday, March 6. Free and open to the public, a variety of events will take place throughout the afternoon and evening, including a guest lecture about Africa in the 21st century; several student presentations on topics such as learning through hearing, contemporary Kenyan urban music, and the origins of the Bantu languages in East Africa ; workshops on gumboot dancing and a running-and- singing activity called "mchakamchaka;" children's games and activities; discussions on study abroad in Africa and an evening concert of traditional African flute music.
According to senior Paul Opare-Addo, president of UMOJA, the student club was founded to provide a venue for students from all over Africa to celebrate their community, supporting each other while adjusting to their new home away from home. The intent of the group is also to welcome and share knowledge with non-African students interested in the issues of Africa, and to offer an inside look at the often underrepresented continent.
"UMOJA hopes to increase awareness of relevant issues concerning Africa in the Middlebury College community by offering lectures, discussions and performances to challenge passive acceptance on campus of social, political and economic ideas," said Opare-Addo, a molecular biology and biochemistry major from Ghana. "These ideas come to many people here second hand, and the practices that stem from that underexposure could be positively influenced by the more personal understanding that we-as peers from Africa-want to offer."
Yohanne Kidolezi, student organizer of the UMOJA African Experience and director of the men's singing-and-running group "Mchakamchaka," hopes that the day's events will appeal to a wide audience seeking a fresh image of Africa. "A symposium format is great for political discussion and exploration, but I think it tends to focus on Africa's difficulties instead of its other very important qualities," he explains. "We want the UMOJA African Experience to show a side of Africa that people don't hear about or discuss as often." During the day, Kidolezi, senior economics major from Tanzania, and a troupe of fellow students will lead a workshop for mchakamchaka, a performance art form stemming from the practice in various African countries of singing while running as a group from place to place to spread good will and encouragement. "Africa's daily life is permeated with a rich, cultural diversity," said Kidolezi. "We want to share that part of our experience, too."
At 1 p.m., Opportune Zongo, associate professor of French and women's studies at Bowling Green State University, will give a talk titled "Africa in the 21st Century: Strategies for a Better Representation, Understanding and Cooperation" in the Redfield Dining Room of Proctor Hall on Hepburn Road, off College Street (Route 125). Zongo, who earned a license in English and African literature at the Université de Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and her masters and doctorate in literature from the University of California at Santa Cruz, has coordinated and directed the Bowling Green State University spring and summer Francophone culture modules in Burkina Faso. A specialist in interdisciplinary and multicultural studies, Zongo has designed and taught courses in French, Francophone and Anglophone African literatures and cultures, ethnic studies, and women's studies, and her writings have appeared in the Research in African Literatures, International Journal of Third World Studies and in the College Language Association Journal. She is a referee and reviewer for academic journals and actively participates in regional, national, and international conferences.
From 2-4 p.m., a collection of student presentations will take place in the Social Space of the McCullough Student Center, on Old Chapel Road, off Route 30. Presentations will include, "Learning through Hearing: The Role of Proverbs in Shaping Ghanian Societies;" "Blending the Old and the New: Contemporary and Traditional African Music and Culture;" "Origin and Diversity of the Languages of the Bantu Peoples of East Africa;" and "Destination Africa: Reflections and Experiences from Study Abroad." The Middlebury College Off-Campus Study Office will also provide information about study abroad opportunities in Africa.
Also from 2-4 p.m. in the same location, various games and children's activities will be offered, and two student-led workshops: "Gumboot Dances of South Africa," which will focus on the dance form that originated as a means of communication amongst laborers in diamond mines; and "Spreading the Joy: Singing on the Run," a teaching demonstration of mchakamchaka.
A concert by the Fula Flute Ensemble will take place at 8 p.m. in the Center for the Arts Concert Hall on Route 30. Founded in New York City in 1999, the Fula Flute Ensemble's jazz-style approach to a predominantly traditional West African Mande repertoire combines the talents of Bailo Bah, a master flute player of the Ivory Coast, on the tambin, the traditional flute of the Fulani people of Guinea and an instrument little known outside of the Mande region. Joining Bah is fellow tambin player from Montreal Sylvain Leroux, who leads the Fula Flute Ensemble and the African Jazz Group Source. Leroux studied the tambin in Conakry, Guinea, and has become one of the rare outsiders to play the instrument. Completing the ensemble are artists Famoro Dioubate on the balafon; Yacouba Sissoko on the kora; Peter Fand on upright bass; and Abdoulaye "Djoss" Diabaté on the conga and vocals. Jack Vartoogian of the New York Times described a February 2000 Fula Flute Ensemble performance as "the best concert I attended in a year-and-a-half." The ensemble recently released a self-titled CD on Blue Monster Records.
For more information about the UMOJA African Experience, contact student organizer Yohanne Kidolezi at (802) 443-4308 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or consult UMOJA's Web site at http://community.middlebury.edu/~umoja/symposium2004.htm.